Prayer for the mom without a mom

I wrote this last year, but it seemed to resonate with a lot of people, so I wanted to share it again. Love to all of you who can relate, and praying that you can find the joy again. xo Dear Lord, Mother’s Day is hard. It’s difficult to celebrate this role when the one ...

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I wrote this last year, but it seemed to resonate with a lot of people, so I wanted to share it again. Love to all of you who can relate, and praying that you can find the joy again. xo


Dear Lord,

Mother’s Day is hard. It’s difficult to celebrate this role when the one who taught me the most, the one whose opinion mattered so much, isn’t here any longer.

It’s hard to think about how to be what my children need when I face this gaping hole, an absence where it still feels like my mom should be. When, even after several years, I feel lost… adrift… permanently damaged, even as I go about my days. I’m not depressed. But I miss her. I feel perpetually lonely without her.

On a day like today, all I can think about is what my mom did for me. How she—even through her criticisms—was my unconditional place. My biggest supporter and strongest cheerleader. How she saw what was bad, misguided, or just plain wrong in my actions—and didn’t hesitate to say so—because she believed I was capable of so much more. Because she thought I was so much better than that.

I wonder now—when I rebelled, did it hurt her the way my own kids hurt me?

Did she stand firm in her opinions anyway, simply because there was no other choice? Because she had to be the mom she knew I needed, rather than the one I thought I wanted?

Did she lie awake at night, wondering if she was doing right by her kids?

Did she fume all day when I yelled at her unjustly?

And even so, did she defend me, instinctively, against any and all criticisms?

Did she mourn over her inability to protect me from people who would hurt me, injure my opinion of myself, break my heart?

I’m certain she did. As a teen, I was oblivious to that. As a parent myself, I now understand her better. Lord, You gave me wonderful mom, and I’m so grateful. And You’ve blessed me with remarkable, amazing children. So why do I feel more like crying than rejoicing?

Because I fully recognize all that I lost. All that she was to me. All that a mom should be to her child. And I’m afraid I can’t live up. I’m afraid I’ve already failed irreparably. I’m afraid my kids will never understand the depths of my love for them. My desperation to shield them from all that could harm them. My unlimited hopes and aspirations for them. They may never understand how deeply I feel the things that hurt them. Or how much I believe in them.

Maybe they’ll get it when they have children of their own.

Maybe someday they’ll cling to You when they realize they don’t have control over their own kids’ lives. Maybe they’ll live in awe of a God who loves us with a Father’s love. Maybe they’ll understand that we are forever connected, whether we’re both on this earth or not. Maybe they’ll grasp the reality that parenting well involves huge risk. It involves making unpopular decisions and hard choices and knowing that we can’t fix everything. It requires being hands-off sometimes when our instincts tell us to cling tight. It consists of a love so great that it isn’t changed by circumstances, actions, achievements—or by disappointments or failures. Our hearts are forever tethered to each other.

Lord, as I write this, I feel my heart loosening. My gratitude welling up. My sadness is still there but not bringing me down… instead, it’s lifting up my head, directing my sight towards You. Because I do have reasons to celebrate. Reasons so much greater than flowers and gifts or the perfect card.

I have You. And I had her (and will always have her, even if she’s not here). And I have my kids.

And I do have joy… in spite of the sadness. But on this day, with Your help, I will let joy prevail. Thank You, Lord.

Amen.

The beauty of playing with prayer

Is this art, or is it just play? This particular image was made by melting crayons and letting them run across the page in different directions. (And then they turned it upside down — what a great idea.) Sounds like play to me. But it’s also a kind of art. Maybe it doesn’t require extraordinary ...

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Is this art, or is it just play? This particular image was made by melting crayons and letting them run across the page in different directions. (And then they turned it upside down — what a great idea.) Sounds like play to me. But it’s also a kind of art. Maybe it doesn’t require extraordinary skill, and possibly you have no interest in making an attempt to copy it. I certainly can’t profess that I am dying to melt crayons in the name of art.

But what I do like is that someone wasn’t afraid to try something different. They used a common drawing tool in a completely new way.

As adults, I think we overthink things, and we’re afraid to look stupid. But give a group of young kids in an art studio or classroom, and you probably won’t see them freeze when you hand them a blank piece of paper. Probably they’ll grab it out of your hand, quick. So they can start experimenting.

What happens when I put a blob of yellow paint on top of the blue square I already painted? What happens if I tilt my paper? Hold my brush like this? Push it instead of pull it? Dip this sponge in it and randomly blot parts of the paper? Swipe through it with my finger? My whole hand? What happens when I paint over paint that’s already dry? Does the paint run down the page if I use too much water? What if I don’t rinse my brush out between colors? What if I paint with the wrong end of the brush?

Everything I know about prayer has come from experimenting — and observing. When a friend told me she’d prayed for two hours one night, I turned around and went to God and said, I don’t get it. What is there to pray about? Don’t you know everything? And then one day I tried it. And two hours flew by. I wouldn’t have believed that until I tried it. (I’ve also had times when five minutes seemed to last forever.)

I’ve watched people dance in the aisles. Kneel at the altar, sobbing — or laughing. Genuflect as they duck into a pew. Bow silently in the back row of a church. Circle round a hurting friend in her living room. I’ve squeezed the hand next to me in circle prayers, signaling that I’m done and the next person can pray, and I’ve prayed alone in the shower, and while driving, and in line at the grocery (though those prayers tend to be ones asking for patience so I don’t strangle the person in front of me who’s paying with five different types of payment and has three separate orders and the cashier is going off duty so she has to count out her change before the next one logs in and I have to be somewhere in five minutes).

OK, so I digress. And I’ve now proven to you just how desperately I need prayer.

I’ve recited The Lord’s Prayer. Read Scripture, aloud and silently. Written my own prayers. Read those written by others. Cried great big heaving wordless sobs. And closed my eyes tighter when I’ve gotten uncomfortable with the way someone else is praying — which is when my prayers switch to “Help me understand. Forgive me for judging.”

The point is, I’ve given myself permission to play around. It doesn’t mean I don’t take prayer seriously, and it doesn’t mean I’m holier than you or anyone else. It just means I believe it’s OK to experiment. And it’s acceptable to have fun. It’s fine if one type of prayer doesn’t really fit you, or if the way you pray doesn’t match that of anyone else that you know. It’s all right to learn from watching someone else or to try something you’ve never seen or heard before.

Don’t worry if you have doubts about the effectiveness or veracity of a particular approach. After all, everything created on a canvas is not art. But that doesn’t mean it isn’t worth experimenting a little. You’ll never really know what you’re able to do until you try.

So won’t you? Try something new? Meditate on a prayer, poem, or Bible verse. Try writing out your prayers, in a journal or as a list — and consider sending a friend the prayer you prayed for her. Talk out loud if you’re normally silent. Kneel in silence if you’re normally vocal. Recite a liturgical prayer if that’s not your usual style. Listen to gospel music, or contemporary rock, or whatever it is you don’t normally listen to. Stay home one Sunday to pray alone if you’re usually busy and distracted at church, or if your faith is more private, consider attending a new church. Visit a church that worships differently from yours. Pray for each friend and family member as you scroll through your phone contacts. Just try to keep an open mind.

The beauty of it is, you can’t mess this up. From God’s point of view, any attempt you make is a beautiful, courageous thing.

A genuine work of art.

Church and the power of a shared story

One day during a writing workshop I attended, the teacher (a well-known author) assigned us the task of sitting for 30 minutes in three very different locations and writing down every single detail we observed. That evening, after we shared the details with each other, she told us that now they belonged to us. What ...

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One day during a writing workshop I attended, the teacher (a well-known author) assigned us the task of sitting for 30 minutes in three very different locations and writing down every single detail we observed. That evening, after we shared the details with each other, she told us that now they belonged to us. What the other women observed became part of my repertoire, and my observations became part of theirs. Now I can take these ideas and absorb them, hold them close, make them part of my story — weave them into the fabric of who I am.

There are a million reasons I could give for getting involved in a church — not because you have to be in church to have faith or practice it, but because it is the ideal place to learn from other people who are, at least in theory, trying to live out the faith we share. No, the people there won’t be perfect. They most likely will fail miserably, as we all do, but that doesn’t mean you can’t learn from them. It also doesn’t mean you have to go early for Sunday school or sign up for all the Bible studies — although you can. It just means that it’s a good place to observe. Open your eyes. Listen. Talk. Share. Ask questions. See how someone clings to God in the darker moments of her life — or notice how she doesn’t — and watch how that changes her. Don’t hide your secrets. If you want to have a perfect little life on Facebook, be my guest. But somewhere in your life find people with whom you can be real.

Because it is in the sharing, in the seeing, that you find the knowing. And it is the knowing that strengthens you and develops a faith that is lasting. When you look through the eyes of faith and notice how God works, it will change what you see when no amount of money-juggling will prevent overdraft fees. It will help you distinguish Him when your nephew responds again to the siren song of his addiction, or your child fails another class, or a herniated disk cancels your golf vacation. It will help comfort you when the biopsy shows that you really did spend too much time in the sun or that there’s no getting around it, you have to seriously change your diet because your health has hit critical stages. No matter how much you love chocolate. Or salt. Or bacon. He will guide you when your reputation tanks, or your investments do, or when the tanker jackknives on the interstate and kills a four-year-old child. It will sustain you when you can’t please a boss or seem to make a smart decision or salvage your marriage. It’s not dependent on you — because the Bible tells us, “If we are unfaithful, he remains faithful, for he cannot deny who he is.” (2 Timothy 2:13, NLT)

Sweet and precious Lord, help us not to overlook the gifts you’ve given us, the ones surrounding us in the pews at church (or surrounding us in life, if we don’t go to church). Teach me, Lord, to see You, honor You, pay attention to You. Grant me Your unfathomable peace. And thank You for putting people in my life to walk alongside me. Help me learn from them, no matter what I’m going through. Amen.


P.S. If you don’t go to church, please don’t think I’m criticizing you. We each have to find our own way and our own place and I’m glad that my blog is part of your spiritual life. In fact, I wrote an article called Should You Feel Shame for Missing Church?, and the short answer is no :-). But I have been forever changed—in a good way—by the people at my church and I know the powerful things that can happen when you find a church to call home.

How to pray when you’re distracted

Dear Lord, I’m so glad that I can come to You at any time. But I wish I could focus more, that I wouldn’t start my prayer and already be distracted before the end of the sentence. I hope that it doesn’t indicate a lack of interest in You. You know my heart, better than I ...

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Dear Lord, I’m so glad that I can come to You at any time. But I wish I could focus more, that I wouldn’t start my prayer and already be distracted before the end of the sentence. I hope that it doesn’t indicate a lack of interest in You. You know my heart, better than I do, but I think my intentions are good. I just can’t still my brain enough to stay on one thought for very long.

And that can’t be the way it’s supposed to be.

God, will You please help me?

Are You laughing at the fact that between writing this line and the one before it, I answered an email, forwarded another, and deleted two more? Probably not, but You see all. You know how my mind works. And You know how I struggle.

In order to go deep with You, I need to spend time with You. But I’ve cluttered my days with too many activities, lots of responsibility, and tons of unnecessary chaos.

Straightening out my priorities would help me in numerous ways. If it helps me connect with You, that is reason enough to do it, but if it helps me find peace and calm in my daily life, that’s even better.

I know that wherever You dwell, peace reigns. And that’s where I want to be. Show me tangible steps I can take in order to make smarter choices with my time. Give me determination to keep reaching for You. Strengthen my conviction that time talking with You is important and makes me better. It makes me more fully into the person You mean for me to be.

As You transform me, my mind will focus more on You and will remain more steady. My hope will grow as I believe more thoroughly that You are the answer to all of my questions. My relationships will deepen as I receive (and learn to give) the kind of understanding You have shown me. The love I show others will be more generous and compassionate because I will have been changed by time in Your presence.

And it all starts with more sustained focus on You. Please, Lord, honor my desire to spend time in prayer. Answer my heart’s cry for all You have to offer. Give me wisdom to not be waylaid by unimportant distractions. Help me forgive myself for my inability to do this on my own. And thank You that You want me to come to You in the first place. You are generous and kind. Merciful and powerful. Forgiving and full of love. You are amazing.

And I want to see You more clearly. Amen.

A peek into my journal

I thought about titling this “Naked and unashamed,” but that would make it look like I have a whole lot more confidence than I really have. With me, naked just is never a good thing! Whatever you want to call it, though, this post is about getting real. I wrote this in my journal recently, ...

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I thought about titling this “Naked and unashamed,” but that would make it look like I have a whole lot more confidence than I really have. With me, naked just is never a good thing! Whatever you want to call it, though, this post is about getting real.

I wrote this in my journal recently, and then the next time I picked it up I felt so strongly that I should share it—not because it’s amazing writing, and not because I have the answers, because I don’t—but because I think someone out there needs to know that they are not alone. Here’s the truth: We don’t all feel inspired all the time, and we don’t always know how to pray. Even me—and I’ve published two books on prayer. So please read on and know that each person’s faith life will ebb and flow. Prayer may come easily sometimes and be more difficult at other times. But God remains the same, and He always wants to hear from us. I am so grateful.


It’s Saturday morning—really almost noon—and I’m feeling that familiar resistance. I should work; I want to read. I should pray; I want to read. I should be productive—I have so much to do—but I’m tired and just want to indulge myself.

Lord, what is it in me that wants to do meaningless, selfish things over spending time with You? Is it the fear—the knowledge—that You know me? That You see through my BS? That You know how far my heart and thoughts are from You in the daily grind?

Revive that passion in me, Lord. Please. It was so good for me to spend the last few days with Cindy and share our stories about You, about our faith and discoveries. To be reminded, through my own words and experiences, how amazing You are. To remember what a gift You’ve given me and all the ways in which You’ve revealed Yourself to me.

I already know that my prayer life will probably never look like it used to. I’ve changed; You have not.

But what I have now feels stagnant and boring. Distinctly uninspiring.

The irony isn’t lost on me: I write about how to invigorate your prayer life, how to try again and again, to do something new to shake it up. I tell people I get to write, not because I am a better pray-er, but because I want You more than I want to stay where I am.

I do want You, Lord.

I want to hear You and see You—but I really want to know You. To let my days be changed by Your presence. To let my life be changed by Your participation and provision. To let You so permeate my being that every particle of me is transformed into something new—unrecognizable as me but fully recognizable as YOU.

Sometimes it seems as though the leap between where I am and where I want to be is impossible to traverse. No obvious path; seemingly impassible obstacles.

And yet I know—and believe—that nothing is impossible for You. My failings don’t even enter into the equation.

Do this impossible thing, Lord. Whisk me over the chasm I sense between us. I’m not asking You to deliver me from the hard work of it. Just for You to show me the footholds I need to navigate across. To inspire me, step by step. To coach me, coax me, whisper encouragement to me. To never leave my side—and yet, inexplicably, to be waiting on the other side when I arrive, arms wide open for a deep embrace.

Help me to get there, Lord. One tiny step at a time.


Dear Lord, thank You for hearing our prayers—and for always wanting to answer them when we’re simply wanting to grow closer to You. Help revive my passion; restore my lagging faith; remind me how amazing You are. I know these things, and I believe in my heart, but sometimes my head gets in the way. Thank You for loving us so much. Thank You for wanting us to lean on You. Thank You for always, always being there and for knowing the desires of our heart. Amen.

Go ahead. Write, draw, color, doodle in your Bible. It’s OK (and I can help).

A few months ago, I had the opportunity to talk to a Bible journaling group about my book, Designed to Pray—specifically, the meanings of different colors and how those meanings can “color” and inspire your prayers. (If you have my book, the material came from Week 8.) Now, I’m not one who’s afraid to write in her ...

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A few months ago, I had the opportunity to talk to a Bible journaling group about my book, Designed to Pray—specifically, the meanings of different colors and how those meanings can “color” and inspire your prayers. (If you have my book, the material came from Week 8.)

Now, I’m not one who’s afraid to write in her Bible. I put the dates that I read or was taught a passage, the name of the person the verse makes me think of, phrases of other translations or word meanings for clarification, and so on. With my art background, you wouldn’t think I would be afraid to draw in my Bible, either. But the truth is, when it came time to get to work, I was intimidated. I looked at the works of art created by some of the other women there and was in awe. I didn’t have the right tools, I don’t know the techniques—and since my biceps tendon repair surgery last spring, I just don’t quite have the same control I once had.

But I’d already put together some traceables for the class to use—which are simply illustrations of some of the key verses from that chapter of my book. And I was there, and I had some colored pencils and a black marker with me, so I tried it.

As you’ll see in my photos, these are not great works of art, nor do they need to be. But I got to see first-hand what so many people have already discovered (as the current trend can attest). It was fun. I like paying special attention to certain key words. Offering my scribbles as a form of prayer. Letting the words, the meanings, resonate in my soul as I spend time in this book that has changed me.

So I want to offer this set of 12 traceables to you (free even if you don’t subscribe to my newsletter; this link should take you directly there). Print them and then trace them into your Bible or a journal. Embellish. Change them. Or just trace them as you thank God for what He’s saying in those words.

And if you just don’t have it in you to try this, consider printing them to use as bookmarks. That works, too.

As you can see, I just used my NIV Life Application Study Bible, which I love love love. Right after I had my surgery last year, I got to review the Beautiful Word Bible —a great choice if you want to buy a Bible just for this, because it has wide margins and some verses already illustrated for inspiration.

Click here to download, and please share them with anyone who might be interested. Now go, and never hesitate to write in your books. Make them your own!

 

 

Just one word

  My three prayers are variations on Help, Thanks, Wow. That’s all I ever need, besides the silence, the pain, and the pause sufficient for me to stop, close my eyes, and turn inward. —Anne Lamott I’ve had lots of people ask me for tips about prayer… How to pray when you’re out of words. ...

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My three prayers are variations on Help, Thanks, Wow. That’s all I ever need, besides the silence, the pain, and the pause sufficient for me to stop, close my eyes, and turn inward.
—Anne Lamott

I’ve had lots of people ask me for tips about prayer… How to pray when you’re out of words. How to pray when your words are angry or full of doubt. How to pray when there are just way too many words, too many needs and situations and emotions. I know that when I’m struggling with something, I want to find a way to control it, understand it, and study it—but in the end, I’m adding more to my plate, not less.

Sometimes the best thing we can do is simplify. When we eliminate the unnecessary, the core of the matter shines through.

This month, if you’ll join me, we’re going to try to pray with just one word a day. Yep, just one. Words like Create. Yes. Remember. Help. Focus. Grow. And even Oops.

Easy peasy, right?

Don’t worry. Just because the word is simple does not mean the prayer is shallow. Your one word can be your whole prayer—or just the beginning. If you start there and explore, you can add layers and depths of color—like a detailed painting versus a quick, scribbled sketch.

Trust yourself and lean on God as you try this. Don’t worry if it makes you feel uncomfortable; there are lots of ways to approach this, none of them wrong. Meditate on the word, offer it to God as prayer, and see what happens. Maybe you’ll stay there and just sit in His presence. Maybe you’ll use it as a springboard, following your thoughts from one word to another. Maybe you’ll listen for whatever insight God chooses to reveal. He might show you a direction by telling you the next steps you should take. Or maybe answer a question you’ve asked, or possibly lead you to other questions. He might call to mind a friend or family member, show you what someone needs, or reveal a way you can help someone else.

Don’t limit yourself. Just pray and be open to where God leads you. And if you’re so inclined, I’d love to hear from you—what do you think? What did you learn?

To download the April prayer prompt calendar, click here. It’s free to anyone who subscribes to my newsletter. If it’s not showing up, you may need to subscribe. Once in a while, if cookies aren’t enabled or you’re on a different device, you might have to re-subscribe, but don’t worry. You won’t receive duplicates.

And now, I’ll close with one of my favorite songs. (If you’re reading this in an email, you’ll have to click to my blog to see the video.)

With just one word that You speak
My mind is filled with Your peace
With every word that You speak
Your power flows unto me

Just one word
and the darkness must flee.
Your word is alive,
Your word sets me free.

One word from God is all we need. How amazing is that?

 

Oh what a a view!

My pastor told me a story about a man he knew who had been a paratrooper in WWII. Before they dropped into France, the paratroopers were given the chance to pick whatever weapons they wanted, whatever they could carry, from the warehouse. This man, Perry, picked one gun with a spare clip. Most of the ...

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My pastor told me a story about a man he knew who had been a paratrooper in WWII. Before they dropped into France, the paratroopers were given the chance to pick whatever weapons they wanted, whatever they could carry, from the warehouse. This man, Perry, picked one gun with a spare clip. Most of the other soldiers weighed themselves down with every last thing they could carry, determined to protect and defend themselves. Perry said he knew he could get more from the fallen soldiers, if he needed it, so he just took what he needed right then to survive.

When they dropped to the ground, the ones who had taken lots — as much as they could carry — broke their legs upon impact.

Ever feel like that? Like you’re carrying way more than you can handle? Oh, wait, of course you do — because you’re human.

I’m right there with you. I’m feeling the weight of many friends and acquaintances with life-threatening or life-altering health conditions—so many prayer needs. I feel the pressure to work more and make more money. The pressure I’m putting on myself to figure out my next writing project, to fulfill all my plans for updating my blog and creating monthly prayer calendars and keeping my own spiritual life in a good place. I am juggling deadlines and the desire to spend time with friends and the knowledge that I have a patient husband but he deserves to get intentional time from me. I’m wanting to spend time with my girls, who are both adults and moving into their adult lives, and with my son, who now no longer needs me to take him places since he can drive himself. And yet I have ad deadlines, and a to-do list a mile long.

I’m hyper-organized, filling calendar squares carefully with minute-by-minute breakdowns of time. I’m quick to suggest letting go of anything that is not absolutely necessary and critical. I’m giving myself permission to leave piles of things in corners if I just don’t have time to deal with them. (Mind you, this is nothing new; I’m just finally giving myself permission to let it go.)

And although it is so easy to let my worries and fears and helplessness weigh me down, one positive thing I can say is at least I’m not holding on to too much. It’s all there, hovering at the edges of my consciousness. The weight of it is tremendous and not for the faint-of-heart. But if I allowed myself to carry it all around, to try to fix it all or bear the burden on my own, I’d be demolished on impact.

It’s not that I don’t care. It’s just that I know I’m not strong enough to let these things consume me. There will be times that I agonize over whether I’ve given my kids all the tools that they need to make wise choices. When I wonder if I’ve done my job well enough as a mom so that they’re prepared to step into the next phases of their lives. When I cry because I can’t fix the problems of my friends. When I wonder if I can get all of my work done, or if I’ll fail miserably and bankrupt myself. When I’m too tired to work and all I want to do is lie on the couch and escape into some fictional world.

I know I should pray. I know prayer helps. I know it changes things. It doesn’t have to be complicated. But there are times that even getting to spend time with the Lord feels too heavy, too hard. All I can do is close my eyes and offer up a wish-thought-prayer. Imagine myself floating down gracefully through the skies. Knowing that God has His hand on me, that He’s lifting the weight of my burdens so that I can soar gracefully rather than crash violently. Trusting that I’m not jumping into a frightening situation. Believing that I’m moving slowly towards the just the place He has in mind for me — not as a soldier facing danger but as a skydiver who’s enjoying the ride.

And trying — tentatively, carefully — to open my eyes and realize that the view from here, from within the center of this journey, is spectacular. Always changing. A view I’d never get to see if I didn’t hand all of my worries to God. If I never left the plane in the first place.

All I have to do is take time to notice. Not be in such a hurry to land. And open my eyes wide.

Dear Lord, help me to appreciate the beauty from every single place you take me. Help me to trust in You and turn over what isn’t mine to carry. Help me to know that, while making that initial leap can be frightening, as long as You are with me (and You are always with me), the view will be spectacular. Thank You for who You are and all You offer me. Amen.

Faith in a rear-view mirror

If you’ve been reading me for long, you know I’m not ashamed to admit all of the many ways I do things wrong, right? In that spirit, let me tell you about what I was thinking the other day when I passed a cop going the other direction, slammed on my brakes, saw his brake ...

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If you’ve been reading me for long, you know I’m not ashamed to admit all of the many ways I do things wrong, right? In that spirit, let me tell you about what I was thinking the other day when I passed a cop going the other direction, slammed on my brakes, saw his brake lights, and THEN proceeded to drive below the speed limit for the next five miles as I watched my rearview mirror for flashing lights, heart pounding, chanting, “Sh&%” under my breath.

We all break the law in one way or another, no matter how careful and/or good we might think we are. Sometimes we even get away with it, like I did. (Thank goodness.)

From there, though, my mind wandered, and I started thinking about how this applies to God’s laws, His standards, His holiness.

I am not legalistic at all. I believe God’s defining characteristics are love, grace, and forgiveness. That was the whole point of Jesus’ crucifixion: that we couldn’t—and don’t have to—pay the penalty for our lack of perfection. I think I have a healthy view of my faults, but I don’t dwell a lot on how lowly I am or beat myself up for my inherent failings and wrong behavior.

Because wouldn’t it stink if someone followed us around all the time, watching for the chance to say “GOTCHA!”? If every time we turned around, someone was waiting to throw a penalty at us? What kind of life would that be?

You know, I think that is possibly part of the reason why God did what He did. Conventional teaching says it was because of His great love for us, that no man should perish. It explains that God is holy and perfect and therefore it is greatly offensive for Him to be confronted with anything less than perfectly holy, and there had to be a sacrifice to bridge that gap.

I’m not disagreeing. I know all of that.

But have you ever considered that maybe it was also a way of God giving us a life we could enjoy (the abundant life discussed in the Bible)? I think it was partly about creating an environment in which we’re welcomed with open arms, not afraid to come to Him—because even though God knows all about us, and is clear about who He is, he doesn’t want a barrier between us. He designed us to have relationships with Him and with each other.

And how amazing is that?

A friend recently said that if your idea of sin is small, your God is small. If you don’t see how lost you were and how much you are in need of a savior, you can’t truly celebrate the enormity of being found. So I started praying about it—do I lean too far towards the concept of grace? Am I shortchanging God or living in denial about all that I’ve done wrong? Have I truly turned away from my sins and been changed? Am I full of pride or ego, or am I realistic about how badly I need God?

The next day, I was practicing the talk I was to give at a prayer workshop the following day, just checking the timing and smoothness of it. It was all about grace. About how God doesn’t beat us up, but just wants us to turn to Him. About how I’m flawed and not more holy than someone else, and how ironic it is that someone who fails as often as I do could write not one but two books about prayer. About how I think that’s why I got to write those books—to tell people it’s okay to not be perfect. The only thing that sets me apart in even the slightest way is that when I fall short, I try again. I don’t let shame keep me away; I want God more than I want to dwell on what I’ve done wrong. And I believe that God wants me to come to Him. So I return to Him, again and again and again and again.

And as my words came out, so did the tears. I kept practicing anyway. By the end, I was sobbing—tears of thankfulness because of how deeply I believe it all to be true. Because I don’t deserve God’s magnanimous grace. I didn’t earn it. I can’t, on my own, be truly good. I can try, and I do. I get some things right, but I seriously mess up others. I sometimes deceive myself, and sometimes I have profound insights into who I am.

Sometimes I may think about it more than other times, but I do recognize what a gift it is. Because always, always, I try to remember who God is. 

And to me, He is a God of second (and third and 482nd) chances. His face lights up when I turn back to Him. His arms are open to welcome me. His head is inclined towards me, eager to listen, interested in what I have to say. Am I the center of the universe? Of course not. But God is big enough to be this personally invested in each and every one of us. He loves each of us enough to delight in us. When we turn to Him, we’re not keeping Him from doing bigger and better things. We’re being who He created us to be.

He’s not following us around looking for reasons to penalize us. He doesn’t rejoice when we mess up. But when we come to Him because we just want to be with Him, I believe He celebrates.

He’s not hiding behind a barricade, waiting to pounce. We can relax, let down our guard. And open our hearts to the knowledge that He’s not trying to trip us up. He’s not setting us up for failure.

When we live life as though He is the God of “gotcha!”, we’re belittling the fulfilling life that He has given us and we’re shortchanging ourselves.

We can’t pretend the law isn’t there. We shouldn’t overlook our transgressions and missteps. But we don’t have to live in that place of remorse and regret and shame. Once we’ve acknowledged what is in our rearview mirrors, we need to put our eyes back on the road ahead—the one He’s on with us.

And floor it.

Hope prevails—in March, and always

In a Bible study a few months ago, I learned about a concept from another study called Experiencing God. It goes something like this: It’s not up to us to try to think up new things to do for God. We should watch and see where God is already working—and then get on board. Pretty simple, ...

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In a Bible study a few months ago, I learned about a concept from another study called Experiencing God. It goes something like this: It’s not up to us to try to think up new things to do for God. We should watch and see where God is already working—and then get on board.

Pretty simple, right? And yet incredibly profound. It has changed everything for me in terms of how I promote myself.

I think of my writing as a ministry. And I love what I do. But sometimes it’s discouraging—the blog numbers don’t grow like I want them to, or someone I like unsubscribes. I promote myself because it’s what I’m “supposed” to do, because those things are what agents and publishers care about—but it always (always) feels awkward.

But over the last couple of months, as I’ve tried to put this concept into action, it has changed me. Instead of seeing other writers as competition, I’ve developed a greater sense of compassion. A deeper gratitude for the lives others are able to reach. An appreciation of what makes each of us unique.

Serving the kingdom of God isn’t about me. It’s about God doing what He will, and being granted the privilege of being some small part of the process.

This is all just some of the background thinking behind this month’s prayer prompt calendar. If you’re new here and don’t know, each month I create a calendar filled with random, kind of quirky prompts to help you start your prayers. There are so many times when I try to turn my mind towards God, only to be surprised by suddenly not being able to remember a single thing I wanted to pray about.

And then there are times when I’m facing something so big that I don’t even know where to start. Words fail me. It might be something in my life—anxiety over finances, health concerns for friends and family, issues in my relationships, discouragement or anger or frustration—or something as basic as hormones or a bad mood. Honestly, there are no limits to the obstacles that keep us from praying.

That’s why I’m so excited about this month’s prayer prompt calendar. When I started looking through the entries for the calendar contest, one of the criteria was looking to see where God already seemed to be working. There were other factors—how creative I could be with the theme, what graphics or style might support it, how easily I could adapt the concepts into short prayer prompts, and what my readers might find helpful. When Michelle Nietert, a licensed professional counselor, wrote this, it grabbed hold of my heart:

I’m a professional counselor and March is our busiest season especially for children and adolescents as well as their families. It begins the first month of the season of the highest suicide attempt rates in the country for adolescents. Also increased teen pregnancy and psych hospital admissions occur in the spring. I would love to see a calendar about praying through emotions and themes that combat these struggles. Prayer prompts for things like experiencing joy instead of depression, hope to combat discouragement, replacing fear with courage, confidence to combat doubt, energy to replace exhaustion, etc.

I didn’t realize that March was a busy season for these things. I live in Indiana, so by March we’re all feeling pretty desperate for sunshine. Lots of my friends and family suffer from seasonal affective disorder, and it’s typically a pretty blah time.

Last spring at a retreat, I met a woman named Michelle Bengtson. Her book was scheduled to come out a few months later. I was intrigued by the title—Hope Prevails: Insights from a Doctor’s Personal Journey through Depression. But I was also impressed at the relationships she had formed with people at the retreat (and at other conferences in the past). I started following her on social media, and I watched as her husband was re-diagnosed with cancer. And yet I was inspired, again and again, by the way she pointed everyone to God at every bend in the road. She lives a life exemplifying her message, and I wanted to be involved with that, even if it’s just peripherally.

When all these factors came together, I decided this idea was perfect for the month of March. So this calendar contains prayer prompts inspired by and suggested by both of these women, and from Hope Prevails.

Please visit both of their blogs and help promote this calendar. We all have people in our lives (if not ourselves) who are battling the issues represented here: depression, feeling alone, suffering from anxiety, fighting cancer, needing peace, struggling with addiction or pain, believing the lies of the enemy, stumbling under the weight of worry—and more. We can’t let these things keep us from understanding who God says we are. We belong to Him. He never leaves us, and He equips us for these fights. We cannot do it on our own, but that’s okay because God promises to go with us through it, and we already know that He is victorious in all things.

Please join with me this month (and beyond) in these prayers, and consider picking up a copy or two of this book. I am convinced that it will make a difference.

If you’re trying to carry something that feels too heavy, please share it with a friend, professional counselor, or minister. You may also email me privately. I promise to lift you up in prayer and then delete your email, keeping your need confidential.

As always, I’ll share these prompts daily on Facebook and Twitter, so you can tag people as you pray for them or share the prompts with your friends. (Use the hashtag #MarchPrayers.)

You can also download the whole calendar for free if you subscribe to my newsletter (click here to download it or sign up). And don’t forget to visit Dr. Michelle Bengston‘s and Michelle Nietert, LPC’s websites; you can sign up for their newsletters to get the calendar, too.

Let me know how I can pray for you.

“For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” Jeremiah 29:11

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